Building a New Home

You have much to do and a lot to consider when designing and building a new home. However, with new technology today and the need for more energy efficient homes modern energy-savings ideas can be integrated into house designs. This will improve comfort with overall energy savings on your heating and cooling costs. There are some basic elements: a well-constructed and tightly sealed thermal envelope, controlled ventilation, properly sized, high efficiency heating and cooling systems, and energy efficient doors, windows, and appliances. Though some of these features are expensive, there are others that many home buyers can afford.

  • Thermal Envelope: A thermal envelope is everything about the house that serves to shield the living space from the outdoors. It includes the wall and roof assemblies, insulation, air/vapor retarders, windows, and weatherstripping and caulking.
  • Wall and Roof Assemblies: The majority of builders use traditional wood frame construction. With proper construction and attention to details, this can be very energy-efficient. Some of the available and popular energy-efficient construction methods include the follow:
  • Optimum Value Engineering (OVE): This method uses wood only where it is most effective. This will reduce costly wood use and saving space for insulation. The builder must be familiar with this type of construction to ensure a structurally sound house.
  • Structural Insulated panels (SIPs): These sheets are generally made of plywood or  oriented-strand board (OSB) that is laminated to foam board. This foam is 4 to 8 inches thick.
  • Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF): Houses constructed this way consist of two layers of extruded foam board (one inside the house and one outside the house) that act as the form for a steel-reinforced concrete center. It's the fastest technique and least likely to have construction mistakes. Such homes are very strong and easily exceed code requirements for areas prone to tornadoes or hurricanes.
  • Insulation: An energy efficient home has much higher insulation R-values than required by most local building codes. Foundation walls and slabs should be as well insulated as the living space walls.
  • Air/Vapor Retarders: Water vapor condensation is a major threat to the structure of a house, no matter what the climate. A vapor retarder is a material or structural element that can be used to inhibit the movement of water vapor, while an air retarder can inhibit airflow, into and out of a house's envelope. When designing and installing vapor retarders, it depends on a great deal on the climate and on the chosen construction method. Any water vapor that does manage to get into the walls or attics must be allowed to escape. You can consult your local building codes official on the best vapor retarder method to use in your area.

  • Weatherstripping and Caulking: You should seal air leaks everywhere in your home to reduce energy loss. This can reduce utility cost by as much as 50% when compared to other house of the same type and age.
  • Controlled Ventilation: Since home energy efficient homes are tightly sealed, it needs to properly ventilated. Ventilation devices, such as through the wall vents, may be used in conjunction with an exhaust fan. They are more expensive to operate and more uncomfortable to used. Therefore, this ventilation strategy is only for arid climates. Other systems pull outside air in with a small outside duct on the return side of the furnace.
  • Heating and Cooling systems: Specifying the correct sizes for heating and cooling systems in airtight, energy efficient homes can be tricky. Rule of thumb sizing is often inaccurate, resulting in wasteful operation. 

There are advantages and disadvantages in houses that incorporates all of the above elements. One advantage is they feel more comfortable because the additional insulation keeps the interior wall at a more comfortable and stable temperature. The indoor humidity is also better controlled, and drafts are reduced. A tightly sealed air/vapor retarder reduces the likelihood of moisture and air seeping through the walls. They are also very quiet because of the extra insulation. The disadvantages is that they cost more and take longer to build and if there's a lack of builder familiarity with new construction techniques and products available on the market. Also, even though the homes structure may differ only slightly from conventional home, the builder and contractors may be unwilling to deviate from what they've always done before. Sometimes they may need more training if they have no experience with these systems.



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